I don’t think it has escaped anyone’s notice that Donald Trump chose not to campaign in Colorado during this election season. Mike Pence came to raise money, but never showed in public.
Trump went to Montana a couple of times. He went to North Dakota. He went to Nevada. He went to Kansas. He held big rallies in each of those states. He is hitting 11 states in the last eight days of the campaign. It would have been easy for him to take a quick detour here. But in the purplish swing state of Colorado, Trump has done nothing. Or nada, as those in the distant caravan of so-called invaders from Central America might say.
You don’t have to ask why. All you need to do is the math. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton, not exactly a popular figure in Colorado, by five points here in 2016. The sparse Colorado polling this year shows his approval ratings underwater somewhere in double figures.
But if the conventional wisdom is right (and after 2016, I hate to call it wisdom, even in jest), the absent Trump is still a huge presence in Colorado, which is a huge problem for Republicans as the votes pour in. Just ask Mike Coffman.
I can’t remember any president being so involved in campaigning in a midterm election. Most presidents have, you know, a full-time job. For Trump, campaigning is not just campaigning. It means a caravan of lies and distortions and exaggerations and bigotry that would be shocking if we hadn’t already watched Trump in action for years. It also means that Barack Obama has taken the rare step of taking to the campaign trail to attack his successor — in a midterm election. You don’t think this is big?
So, what is Trump’s campaign about? It’s mostly about Trump. But also, the so-called invaders. The beautiful barbed wire. The needless troops sent to the border. The promise (since withdrawn) that U.S. forces would somehow return fire against rock-throwing kids. The executive order that would end birthright citizenship and somehow Trump — yeah, let’s go there —the 14th Amendment. The assertion that Democrats would destroy Medicare. The assertion, even more absurd, that Democrats want open borders and would provide sanctuary to MS-13 gang members. And more absurd still, the idea that Democrats would somehow turn the country into Venezuela. Don’t try to think very hard about how this might happen or it will make your head explode.
We could go on. And on. I mean, we should definitely mention Trump’s racist, they’re-not-qualified-for-the-job assaults on African-American candidates for governor in Georgia and Florida. Trump’s closing campaign ad was a racist, fact-challenged, anti-immigrant piece that CNN refused to run, that NBC, after running it Sunday night, took off the air, that Fox — yes, even Fox — eventually pulled, saying that it failed to meet its standards.
Does that stuff work? Obviously, it has worked for Trump, but will it work beyond his base this time? In The National Review, Henry Olsen says it won’t, predicting there will be a Democratic-RINO alliance. After 2016, I’m personally loath to make any predictions other than that the Broncos will continue to stink. But I’m going to try on this one, which I think says something good about Colorado.
If there’s a big Dem night in Colorado, or nationally for that matter, credit Trump, who is here even when he’s not here. As the old (very old) joke line goes, he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.
If Jared Polis wins easily, you can start with Walker Stapleton’s primary-run embrace of not only Trump but also Tom Tancredo — a Trumpist mini-me — and his inability to figure out how to distance himself from Trump in the general election. To his credit, he has walked away from Trump’s closing argument/tantrum/racist invective. Actually, I think the credit belongs to Colorado voters, a majority of whom haven’t been fooled into thinking that a caravan of refugees is anything but a caravan of refugees.
If Jason Crow beats vaunted escape artist Mike Coffman in CD6, it will be because Coffman’s disavowals of Trump never went far enough or, probably, never could go far enough. When people ask why Crow — who has run a good campaign — might pull off what far more prominent Democrats couldn’t, I have an easy (maybe too easy) explanation. A generic D, with no baggage, with a great resume, is a powerful opponent this year in a suburban Dem-leaning district.
If Democrats win back the state Senate, it will be, in large part, because Trump has ensured that nearly every race in the country, from U.S. Senate to county commissioner, has become a referendum on Trump, who has topped (or bottomed) himself these last few weeks. The Washington Post, which has catalogued Trump’s presidential lies, has him averaging something like five a day during his administration. During the last seven weeks, the number has skyrocketed to something like 30 a day, hitting into the 80s on one day in late October.
In some places, that works. In some places in Colorado, that definitely works. But ask yourself how many Republican candidates in Colorado, other than Sen. Tim Neville, are making the race all about sanctuary cities. I think, in many places, the sanctuary city argument lost much of its power when the Trump administration started putting kids in cages. But sending troops to the border?
The final count is soon upon us. If you watched the governor’s race, you know that Jared Polis spent the general election period making sure not to seem either radical or extreme. He has spent much of his time, in fact, basically sitting on a lead. That’s because Stapleton’s campaign has been largely based on calling Polis radical and extreme and saying he would bankrupt Colorado. But has anyone heard Stapleton try to blame Polis for the caravan or call the caravan an invasion, which is the stuff you’re hearing in races in many other states?
There is so much at stake in this election beyond the governor’s race. Whether the U.S. House swings Democratic or remains Republican. Whether the state Senate remains Republican or swings Democratic. What happens in our down-ballot races, where the attorney general’s race and the secretary of state’s race may be quite close. What happens to the referendums — to 112, to 74, to 73.
Maybe that’s why the mail-in vote count is running so high compared to the last midterm election in 2014. Or maybe it’s because in Trumpworld, Donald Trump is always on the ballot even when he’s not.